Doris Anderson, a vocal proponent of women's rights and proportional representation, made Chatelaine the best read magazine in the country under her editorship in the 1960s and 1970s. She died this afternoon in St. Michael's Hospital of pulmonary fibrosis. She was 85.
A feisty hard-working and determined woman, Ms. Anderson grew up in Alberta in a boarding house run by her single mother during the Depression. Although she made her own success in the man's world of magazine publishing in the 1950s and 1960s, she was always a champion of women's rights and a promoter of gender equality in public office. As the enormously successful editor of Chatelaine magazine from the mid-1950s-the mid 1970s, she began making her feminist mark nearly a decade before Betty Freidan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963.
"She was tremendous, like a rock," said former politician Flora MacDonald. Ms. MacDonald particularly remembered the issue of Chatelaine in which she commissioned "a big article on 50 women who would make good parliamentarians and then she took 12 of us and put us on the cover" of the magazine. "She was always doing things to promote women and she would keep an eye out for people whom she thought might be encouraged to get into the political arena," said Ms. MacDonald.
"Doris was tremendously vibrant intellectually right to the end. I saw her for lunch a couple of weeks ago and she was still militating for proportional representation -- and gleefully swapping gossip, too. Despite her increasing frailty -- she was so gaunt at the end, and she just hated dragging around that oxygen tank -- Doris still radiated strength, solidity and wry humour," said journalist Michele Landsberg, a close friend since the days when she worked for Ms. Anderson at Chatelaine in the 1970s.
"Nobody is more generous-hearted or supportive than Doris. She will go out and talk to a small group of women students or she can take on a large crowd," said journalist Rosemary Spiers, former president of Equal Voice.
"She has been the de facto leader of whatever women's movement there has been in Canada for the last 40 years. Nobody else has emerged," said Ms. Spiers.
"She was terribly important as a second wave feminist because she had the magazine for women and it was always thoughtful and always had interesting things in it," said former Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson. Ms. Anderson hired her to do book reviews in Chatelaine in 1965, the same year Ms. Clarkson began her decade long stint as co-host of Take 30, CBC Television's afternoon program for housewives.
Ms. Clarkson thinks Ms. Anderson recognized an affinity between Take 30 and Chatelaine because both vehicles were unafraid to take on tough, risky subjects such as abortion, birth control, rape and child abuse. "You never had to explain anything to Doris. You just listened and identified."
Although Ms. Anderson was celebrated for being tough and combative, especially when dealing with men, she was actually quite shy and vulnerable underneath her bristly exterior. She never really overcame the animosity she absorbed about her father, a belligerent and overbearing man who thrust himself into her idealized, matriarchal world, much to her dismay, when she was eight years old. This early life experience may help to explain why Ms. Anderson so often chose conflict over consensus as a management style.
"I never learned to be subservient to men," Ms. Anderson cheerfully admitted in an interview in Dec., 2006. What I learned to do was to cope." But of her very few regrets, one of them is not having being able to find more effective "tools" for dealing with men in authoritative positions, especially since she loved her brothers and her sons and treasured her relationships with them.
Hilda Doris Buckm who was born on November 10, 1921, was the third child and only daughter of Rebecca Laycock Buck and Thomas McCubbin, a lodger in her mother's boarding house in Calgary. Mrs. Buck's first husband, a swindler named Alvin Buck, had re-mortgaged the house and skipped out with the funds several years earlier leaving his 23 year old wife with two young sons and a lot of debt. After Mrs. Buck gave birth to Doris in Medicine Hat, where she had gone to stay with her sisters in the last months of her pregnancy, she placed her "illegitimate" infant in a home for unwanted babies in Calgary. After several months, she had a change of heart and reclaimed her daughter.
Mr. McCubbin, Ms. Anderson's biological father, who was prone to drink and larcenous behaviour, married her mother just before the girl's eighth birthday and cast a shadow over what Ms. Anderson remembered as a happy, carefree childhood. (Her parents subsequently had two sons.)
He was a difficult and domineering man and young Ms. Anderson resented his influence on her mother. She was confused and unhappy about his rebukes about her forward and unladylike behaviour. "I fervently wanted my father to be hit by a streetcar," she wrote in her 1996 memoir, Rebel Daughter, "particularly when we were waiting for dinner and he reeled in late, three sheets to the wind, and sat pontificating at the head of the table."
She softened somewhat in her attitude towards him late in her life. "He was a rebel, and he had a good mind, read widely and challenged everything," she said in December 2006, but she added, "I never felt any warmth toward him. By contrast her mother was "terribly conservative" and wanted her only daughter to be demure, keep her head down, and conform to "respectable" expectations.
When she grew into adolescence, Ms. Anderson found it increasingly difficult to comply with her mother's acceptance of marriage and childrearing as the only desirable lifestyle for a woman. In those days women often had to choose between career and family, in line with the over-riding philosophy that you could have one, but not both. Rather than her mother's conformist choice, she looked to women such as her unmarried teachers as role models for an independent life.
After Crescent Heights High School in Calgary, Ms. Anderson went to teacher's college, graduating in 1940. Teaching was never her vocational dream, however. She earned enough money from teaching contracts in rural communities in Alberta to put herself through the University of Alberta in Edmonton. She graduated in 1945. Respectable women had three career options at the time, according to Ms. Anderson. "You could be a secretary, a nurse or a teacher," she told a journalist in 2005. "Because I was bookish and bright I was to be a teacher. And in those days, all teachers were spinsters. If they got married they got fired immediately."
None of those "choices" or limitations appealed to her. Instead, she moved to Toronto, intent on a career in journalism. From her first job, as an editorial assistant on the now defunct Star Weekly magazine, she moved to radio as a scriptwriter on the Claire Wallace program. After a little more than six months working for the tyrannical Ms. Wallace, a potential prototype for the Anna Wintour character in The Devil Wears Prada, she quit to work as an advertising copywriter for the T. Eaton company, then a huge department store chain. After three years she left Eaton's, in Nov. 1949, and sailed to England to live in London and try her luck at writing fiction.
She sold a few short stories to Chatelaine and Maclean's, which was then a monthly general interest magazine, but realized that it would be almost impossible to earn a living as a fiction writer. She went back to Toronto and to Eaton's, but quit in 1951 to take a job at Chatelaine as an editorial assistant in the advertising promotion department, an inauspicious start to what would become a monumental career move not only for her but for Canadian women.
As Floyd Chalmers, president of Maclean-Hunter, once said about her: "What I like about Doris is that she looks like a woman, acts like a lady, and works like a dog."
Six years after joining the magazine, she had risen through the ranks to become editor, a job she was reluctantly given after she had threatened to quit if management appointed another man to the position. Two weeks before Ms. Anderson became editor, she married PEI-born lawyer and Liberal Party backroom organizer David Anderson, not because she was desperately in love, but because she wanted children. She was 35.
Her mother told the groom: "Now Doris has someone to look after her." But as Ms. Anderson wrote in her memoir, Rebel Daughters, "what I wanted more than anything was to be able to look after myself and make sure that every other woman in the world could do the same".
The Andersons had three sons Peter (1958), Stephen (1961) and Mitchell (1963). Like most employers of the day, Maclean-Hunter had no maternity leave policy. Traditionally women resigned about their fifth month of pregnancy and then stayed home to raise their children. She torpedoed that custom but the downside was that she had to return to work when her first son was two weeks old. She continued to work after the births of her two younger sons. She and Mr. Anderson divorced in 1972 after 15 years of marriage. He died of cancer in 1986.
As editor of Chatelaine, Ms. Anderson wanted to give readers what they expected in the way of recipes, beauty and parenting tips, but she also wanted to give them "something serious to think about" and to "shake them up a bit" with well-written, hard-hitting investigative pieces on abortion, birth control, discriminatory divorce laws and the wage gap.
And she hired excellent journalists to write them, including June Callwood, Christina McCall (later Newman) Michele Landsberg, Barbara Frum and Sylvia Fraser. "I had fabulous women," she said later, explaining that many of them came to her because they couldn't find places to write elsewhere.
One of her first editorials was an appeal for more women in Parliament -- there were only two female MPs in 1958 --another early one was for reform of the draconian abortion laws. She quickly learned that effecting social change meant frequently revisiting issues in editorials and articles and so she devoted lots of space over the years to push for a Royal Commission on the status of women, and to expose horrors such as child battering, racism and the plight of Canada's Native peoples. Some readers felt that she was turning "a nice wholesome Canadian magazine into a feminist rag." However, circulation, which was 480,000 when she became editor, had increased by the late 1960s to 1.8 million readers, the equivalent of one out of every three women in Canada.
She made Maclean-Hunter lots of money because of the success of Chatelaine, but she was never paid anything like the salary given to the editor of Maclean's. For example, when she was earning $23,000 annually at Chatelaine, Charles Templeton, who was editor of a very troubled Maclean's for only six months in 1969, was making $53,000, or more than twice as much. After Mr. Templeton was forced to quit, she campaigned for the job, but was rejected in favour of Peter Gzowski.
"The main objection to you," Gerry Brander, Maclean's publisher explained, according to her memoirs, "is not that you're a woman, but that you can't represent the company publicly." He was unable to explain why. "I would have had that job in a flash if I had been a man," she said to me in 2006. "I was the most successful editor all through that time. Chatelaine was sustaining the magazine division."
Ms. Anderson finally quit Maclean-Hunter in 1977, about five years after she had first thought of leaving, because she couldn't stand working with the publisher of Chatelaine, whose job she had coveted, but was never given. When asked directly in Dec. 2006 how she felt about being passed over for promotion, she replied bluntly in her flat nasal prairie voice. "Angry. Still." And then she added, "That wouldn't happen today."
A confirmed workaholic, she quickly thrust herself into work of a different sort by agreeing to run for the Liberals in Toronto in a 1978 federal by-election as a last minute replacement for Roland de Corneille who had stepped down because the election was scheduled for a Jewish high holiday. Partly she felt she couldn't say no, especially after encouraging other women to run, and partly she says she was made promises by the Liberal Party that weren't kept.
She lost (19,027 votes to 7,602) in an anti-Pierre Trudeau sweep to Rob Parker, a businessman and former broadcast journalist, representing the Progressive Conservatives. Even after stepping into the electoral lurch for the Liberals, she was told she would have to fight the reluctant Mr. de Corneille for the nomination next time.
This one brief experience persuaded her that she did not have the submissive personality required for party politics. "Most successful backbenchers behaved like football players in a scrum--never any dissent or criticism," she wrote in Rebel Daughter. "If I won a seat, I knew I would chafe under that kind of strict party discipline."
Why she never ran again, is a bit of a mystery, but it may be that she took her defeat very hard and wasn't able to risk suffering a public loss like that again. That same year she also published the first of her three novels. Two Women juxtaposes Julia, a divorced editor in a Toronto publishing house, who is exploited and overworked by underwhelming men, with her old college friend Hilary, the fundraising wife of a businessman who is depressed to the point of suicide by her meandering purposeless life. In a review of the book, William French, then literary editor of The Globe, wrote: "Anderson's characterization and dialogue are credible, but to get us where she wants to go she falls back on plot devices that are decidedly melodramatic and overly contrived."
In 1979, before the Liberals were defeated, she accepted a federal appointment as chair of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women (CACSW). This was the era in which the Parti Québécois, under the late Rene Levesque, was voted into power in Quebec and the first separatist referendum was held. After his re-election in 1980, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was determined to patriate the British North American Act from Westminster and combine it in a constitutional package with an amending formula and an entrenched Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Ms. Anderson saw the constitutional talks as an opportunity to lobby for strong wording on women's equality. Under her leadership the advisory council planned a conference, but it was delayed because of a translator's strike.
Meanwhile the Charter was drafted and an equality clause was formulated which prohibited discrimination on a number of grounds including sex, but it didn't go far enough in Ms. Anderson's opinion because it "was exactly the same wording as in the 1960 Canadian Bill of Rights," which she argued had "been tested ten times in the courts between 1870 and 1980, and had been found to be useless as a legal tool to help women."
She criticized the wording publicly and sent a detailed critique to Lloyd Axworthy, then minister responsible for the status of women. She also hired feminist lawyer Mary Eberts, a constitutional expert, to write a brief which was presented to a Parliamentary committee hearing.
But Ms. Anderson's conference on women's equality and the constitution was cancelled in a move that appeared to many to have been orchestrated by Mr. Axworthy in tandem with members of her own board. Ms. Anderson resigned in protest, in what was played as a story about women fighting not only each other, but the minister in charge of the Status of Women. "Every time Lloyd Axworthy opens his mouth, one hundred more women become feminists," said Ms. Anderson in a comment that was widely quoted.
"She was relatively easy going and ready to compromise," said her friend, journalist Rosemary Spiers about the furor at the Status of Women, "but when things really get up against the wall, then she won't and she is very tough."
Flora MacDonald agreed. "When Pauline Jewett and I were in the House, she in the NDP and me for the Progressive Conservatives, we were questioning Mr. Axworthy in the house every day about why was this conference going to be postponed and so on," Flora MacDonald said recently. "I don't think he has ever forgiven me."
A small group of self-organizing feminists decided to hold a conference anyway. Helped by Ms. MacDonald, who booked a meeting room on Parliament Hill, more than 1,300 women from across the country arrived in Ottawa on Feb. 14, 1981 to hold what became known as the "Ad Hoc Conference." Eventually a new clause was added to the Charter, Section 28, which states: "Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons."
The fallout was bitter. Mr. Axworthy appointed Lucie Pepin, one of the women on the CACSW board who had voted against holding the conference, as Ms. Anderson's successor. Ms. Anderson then became head of the National Action Committee, a coalition of more than 700 women's organizations, serving as president from 1982-1984. She also sat on the Ontario Press Council (from 1977-84) and began writing a bi-weekly column for The Star in Toronto, a podium she kept for the next decade. The University of Prince Edward Island elected her its chancellor for a four year term from 1992 to 1996, after which she presided as the chair of the Ontario Press Council from 1998 - 2006.
She also did a lot of writing in these years, publishing her second novel, Rough Layout, in 1981, a satire about a magazine editor who is exploited at work by her incompetent male boss and at home by her needy underperforming husband. Her third novel, Affairs of State, which appeared in 1988, was "an unabashed roman a clef about her wretched years as a federal bureaucrat," as Stevie Cameron wrote in a review in The Globe.
In this novel, Ms. Anderson's protagonist, Kathryn Kramer, is undermined from above by a vulgar right-wing male minister of health who wants to turn her conference on child abuse into a celebration of family values. But unlike the nefarious men in her earlier novels, Ms. Anderson gave the viper's role this time to Kramer's female assistant, a disloyal backbiter who initiates a smear campaign against her boss and openly lobbies support for the minister.
Her fourth book, The Unfinished Revolution, recounting 20 years of the women's movement was published in 1991. Leona Gom called it "a highly-readable, intelligent, well-researched and utterly compelling examination of the lives of women in 12 European and North American countries."
The research for this book made her realize that women were very unlikely to achieve electoral power without a switch in voting systems from the first past the post system (FPTP) favoured in England and North America to the proportional representation systems adopted by many European countries including Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the European Community.
Although they were never close friends, Ms. Anderson and Ms. MacDonald shared many causes and friends and so their lives overlapped, most notably in the furor over the ad hoc conference and in their mutual friendship with the late N.D.P politician Pauline Jewett, who died of lung cancer in July 1992.
"In the last weeks of Pauline's life, Doris literally moved into her bedroom and looked after her," Ms. MacDonald said recently. "They were very, very close and I saw a lot of her then because Pauline was such a friend, so there were things like that that kept occurring in our lifetimes."
In the last 15 years of her life, Ms. Anderson campaigned relentlessly for proportional representation as a means to encourage more women to run and have a better chance to be elected. In a letter to the editor of The Globe in Sept., 2005, she complained about an article favouring the FPTP system saying "it allows for absolute majorities that actually are won with less than 40 per cent of the vote and gives them the right to act like a wrecking ball -- or sit on their hands and do nothing. Most of our best legislation -- medicare, the Canada Pension Plan and unemployment insurance--were actually brought in under minority governments, not phony majority governments."
She was also active in Equal Voice, a multi-partisan action group dedicated to increasing women's participation in political life and representation in elected office at all levels of government. A great fan of proportional representation, because she believed it was the only way more women could succeed in being elected.
In the last decade her health declined drastically. She had a heart attack in 2001, but seemed to have recovered. On a trip to Costa Rica in the spring of 2006, she suffered from what appeared to be food poisoning but turned out to be the beginning of a series of digestive and kidney system failures that had a debilitating effect on her general health, including a second heart attack and ongoing problems with her lungs.
Our interview in December 2006, took place in a rehabilitation hospital in Toronto, where she was attached to a portable oxygen machine and using a walker to help maintain her balance. Although she was thin, she still had the same beautiful hands, with the carefully sculpted nails, and was bringing her trademark feisty attitude to her pet causes, which now included the right for terminally ill patients to end their lives with dignity and according to their own timetables.
She left rehab and was back in her condo, until early this week when illness forced back into hospital. She was sitting up in bed on Thursday night talking to one of her sons, according to Ms. Landsberg, and went to sleep and didn't wake up again.
There will be a celebration of her life at a later date.